Seeing for the First Time
John 9: 1-7 – ‘As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
A parishioner, Jo, has recently had eye surgery. She has had cataracts removed from her eyes which have been there since she was a teenager. The cataracts I mean, not the eyes, which we suspect have been there much longer.
She has had great difficulty distinguishing objects and shapes, particularly at night times.
I admit when I heard this, my mind flashed back to a number of occasions my wife has been driven to choir practice at night. But such is the providential grace of God, that there was nothing that concealed cars, houses and trees.
Jo has had her surgery and now has new sight. She has started to see things she has never seen before. She picked out a yacht’s mast, well out to sea. She has seen the details in lounge patterns that she has missed. Everything is brighter and lighter. It is a new world for her.
As it was for the man in our story.
Our Gospel reading contains an account of a miracle that Jesus performed on a blind man. It differs from other such accounts found in the Gospels in that it is an extremely detailed and long account. Usually Jesus’ miracles are told with some brevity: a needy person comes to Jesus who heals them, then they go on their way restored. This story by comparison not only relates the miracle itself in some detail, but also relates the follow up story, and tells of the battle the blind man had to get his cure certified by the Pharisees, a procedure required by Jewish law.
It has many subplots:
- The query as to who sinned that he was born blind, this man’s parents or his own sin before birth in Verse 2,
- The abandonment by his parents, lest they be caught up in controversy and Jewish worship life in Verses 21 and 22,
- The probing of the Pharisees who are determined to find another explanation to the man’s seeing,
- The lively wit and quick thinking of the new man who asks them if they too wish to become Jesus’ disciples in Verse 27,
- Only for him to be scoffed at and threatened, and accused of being born in lowly circumstances in Verse 34,
- The healed man’s eagerness to know more about Jesus in Verse 36.
When Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man, the blind man does what many a Christian has done wonder what on earth he was talking about!
This was a story about a new era for the man; a new joy, enthusiasm, sight and relationships. All because of what happened that unforgettable day.
It all unfolded from the mixing of dirt with saliva, and whatever version you read, it should read ‘clay’ like in Genesis 2 where he made man from dirt or clay. John is reminding us of the creative work of God in this man. He was making him a new creation
Something I have never known before about this miracle comes from a neurologist. Neurologists will tell us that this man was the recipient of a double miracle. Not only did Jesus fix his optical condition, but he also installed in the man the mental ability to allow the man to make sense of the information coming through his eyes.
Although we might not realize it too often, the ability to see is one part physical, one part mental. For this reason, blind people who undergo surgery do not automatically act like seeing people. They still have to mentally learn how to interpret the data coming through their eyes. This man experiences a double miracle.
Once he has washed his eyes in the Pool of Siloam, he comes back ‘seeing’. And then he unwittingly becomes like the woman at the well, an evangelist for Jesus.
Who can ever know where life will lead once Jesus works a miracle of grace in our lives? It’s a familiar story with candidates for the ministry. Plucked from jobs, from accountancy, universities, the air force, retail industry, or youth worker services into ministry and training.
So often we are blind to the possibilities of life until Jesus opens our eyes. And it has always been the same. Could his disciples have ever known that the call of Jesus would one day lead them all into martyrdom, beginning with James the fisherman, brother of John, in Acts.
Acts 12:1-2 – ‘It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the Church, intending to persecute them.
He had James, the brother of John put to death with the sword.’
Peter would have fished into his dotage then passed it all onto a son or son in law, and enter with historical anonymity into the bowels of the earth, unremembered, unheard of.
Instead, they all demonstrate what Dietrich Bonhoeffer means when he says that when Jesus calls a man he bids him come and die.
No-one sees that at the time, but ultimately a commitment to Jesus is one that goes beyond the happy moments to the ones where to say yes to Jesus is to put one’s life on the line. This is what the blind man does.
When Jesus gives us sight, he helps us see things that we might not want to see. That one day we may have to put our lives on the line for him, as did those Pakistani Christians gunned down by Muslims as they worshipped.
The rise of radical Islam heightens this possibility. That religion has the Jihad at its heart – the killing of non-believers. Even people of the book, as we are known. We are given one chance to change our minds but then subject to Jihad or killing if we do not change.
There are some 40 countries where Christians are being persecuted by Muslims, and no country where Christians are persecuting Muslims. Islam was born not in the blood of its founder, but in the blood of those who would not accept the authority of Mohammed and his movement.
It was evangelized from the 6th Century onwards with the sword. It was born not born out of the shed blood of its founder, but from the blood of its would-be converts. And no contemporary Muslims, here or in Afghanistan renounce the concept of Jihad, which is a war against non-believers. Stay tuned.
With the rise of human rights legislation, we will find more and more that Christians will be marginalized, all amidst the voicelessness and passivity of Synod and Assemblies.
They remind us again of the central teaching of this Scripture, that those who think they see, may well be the most blind of all.
The Pharisees were certain they had truth and religious power all wrapped up. Jesus was a threat to their cozy world of religious control, so healing on the Sabbath was seen as an affront to them rather than a source of joy that a man had been healed.
The blind man becomes a preacher to them.
He asks if they want to believe too and tells them that Jesus is a prophet. But they act according to form and so something miserable occurs.
According to Jewish law, when someone was cured of a disease, they were to have the cure certified by the local authorities. It was a necessary procedure, particularly as a way of curtailing infectious diseases. Since the Pharisees were unused to certifying miracles, and since they had an attitude to Jesus, they were not willing to issue this man with the necessary certification.
And after a long palaver and two cross examinations, and a testimony from the man’s parents, they concluded that Jesus and the man were sinners and that no miracle had occurred.
Despite this discouragement, the amazing man is not discouraged, and he is prepared to learn more. He wants to know what this Son of Man stuff is about, and who he is that he might believe in him.
All this comes from the query of the disciples back in Verse 2. They are quite impersonal about the man, like he is an object in the zoo. They are right next to him and they ask who sinned? However, the good thing is they felt free to bring their questions to Jesus.
Do we still have questions for Jesus? Questions are a sign of a growing, emerging faith.
I was questioning the Lord the other Friday morning about Ann Selth. She died on Monday and was a beautiful person; a lay pastor who loved the Lord and love people.
She had some steel in her spine too as she stood with Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church (EMU) during the dark days of homosexual dominance of the church leadership.
She had struggled with leukemia for three years. She recovered, then relapsed, time and time again, then she died.
Of course sorrow is only on our part, she has gone home to be with the Lord. But why did the Lord not heal her? I sometimes think that in a pleasure-loving, hedonistic world the Lord lets people suffer what he knows they can endure and so be witnesses to him through it all.
If our purpose in living is to serve and love the Lord, then that means in times of sickness as well as health and comfort. Maybe more so.
We can have more impact by asserting that Jesus is Lord when we are in a state of health disarray, than when we are lolling about on Glenelg beach.
So I kind of answer my own questions so often. As they are laid before the Lord, he shows us the answers. But he wants us to ask him our questions. When he answers them he brings sight.
Jesus brought sight to the disciples – the man is not blind because of sin anywhere, rather he in his blindness and we in ours or in our sickness are here to manifest the works and illumination of God.
The light comes as much to the disciples as to the blind man.
Is Jesus still opening our eyes to new things? About ourselves, our world, our church? To the miracles he is doing and has done. Are we always praying, ‘open our eyes Lord, I want to see Jesus.’ See more of him, see new and deeper love in our hearts.
Are we seeing his life as the answer to the problem of evil and sickness as he sometimes heals us, or more deeply when he helps us to live with illness in a way that brings him more glory than physical healing?
Does he help us to see that we need to avoid being like the Pharisees, looking down on some new work of God or new person with leadership skills?
Do we see that sometimes we are blind? Blind to our own possibilities in Christ; blind to the growth potential of our church? Blind to newcomers who sit by themselves over morning tea?
Like the Pharisees, all of us have blind spots that prevent us from seeing what God is doing in our lives. And like the Pharisees, when you have a blind spot, God can begin to do something fantastic in your midst, in your life, in your home, in your country and you will not see it.
Like the Pharisees you can only see how you want things to be. You can only see how you think things ought to be, but you cannot see what is there – before your eyes.
You are, as Fred W. Anderson says, ‘Someone who cannot take ‘Yes’ for an answer’
Let us ask God to heal us of any blindness we may have, that we might being questions to God, witness to the skeptical and unbelieving, and enthusiastically pass on the good news that Jesus is Lord.
What we see again in this story is that Jesus is a seeking God who seeks what is best for his people. That means of course that the blind man who received his sight never actually saw with his new eyes the person who had given him sight. Only later, after a tragic expulsion from the Synagogue does he meet with Jesus. The Bible tells us that Jesus found him. Jesus found him. I love that. Jesus looked for him and found him. That in itself is the Gospel in a nutshell and reveals the heart of Jesus – a man of compassion and love.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now I’m found;
Was blind, but now I see.
By George Robert Iles
Golden Grove , 2002